Thursday, 31 October 2013

The Michael Heath Cartoon Competition

Well, it’s the last day of October and the closing date of the Michael Heath Cartoon Competition over at The Spectator.

When a friend emailed me back in September to make me aware of the competition, little did I expect it to take over my life. Naturally, since I’m trying to catch a break in the hard world of gag cartooning, the last few weeks have been characterised by my riding around town muttering ‘man in motion, man in motion’ and standing at the Tesco checkout whispering ‘man in motion, man in motion…’ Last thing at night my prayer was ‘man in motion’ and then again first thing in the morning. I have a Word document now filled with a few thousand words of finished man-in-motion gags, half-finished man-in-motion ideas, and hundreds of going-nowhere man-in-motion thoughts.

What’s worse: for once I don’t overstate any of this for comic effect.

When The Spectator holds a cartoon contest, cartoonists across the country probably sit up like hungry meerkats smelling rain after a parched summer. The Spectator remains one of the last great homes for gag cartoons. In many respects, it’s Britain’s New Yorker but with the added kudos that comes from being the oldest continuously published magazine in the English language.

Then there’s the name attached to the competition: that alone is enough to set off the Pavlovian drooling. No name has dominated English cartooning over the past half a century quite like that of ‘HEATH’. When I first started to take cartooning seriously, I quickly noticed that Michael Heath’s work set a tone quite different to the usual world of middle-class mores.


I’ve spoken before about how difficult it is to cartoon about the real world rather than the imagined world. Even the process of learning to draw cartoon faces is more technical than it is observational. You learn the shapes and the shortcuts but they don’t necessarily convey anything meaningful about your characters. Recently, I’ve even taken to taking photographs around my town to build up a collection of faces I can use that aren’t simply versions of faces I’ve subconsciously remembered from all the cartoons I’ve studied.


Faces are very different in a working class town such as my own. They fold in different places, probably due to bad teeth, bad lifestyles, the weight of the world exerting different pressures. I think Michael Heath was the first cartoonist I saw who had recognisably broken away from the rather staid tradition of cartooning in which the middle classes predominately figured. One of B. Kliban’s best qualities was his depictions of bluecollar America but Heath looks for and finds the same rich ugliness in the British culture, unlike the majority of English cartoonists at the time who either look to their own lives or tried to illustrate the lives of their newspaper’s audience. Class has recently started to fascinate me for a number fo reasons. Listening to Billy Tidy talk a few weeks ago, I was struck by how much his Cloggies were a fictional Northern working class created to entertain the largely middle class audience for cartoons. Standing in a gallery in Manchester watching rich folk laugh at cartoons about ale-drinking working men, I was trying to figure out this dynamic. Heath, in contrast, draws ugly versions of the working man yet he doesn’t simply resort to caricatures. It means that sometimes the figures are as meaningful as the gag. That’s not to say I don’t enjoy the work of a cartoonist such as Stan McMurtry but he draws largely sympathetic figures (right), reminiscent of the sublime Ronald Searle’s long-nosed businessmen and ex-Trinian women. Mac’s cleaning women and ordinary punters are shorthand versions of the working class. Even when he draws thugs they tend to be recognisable grotesques who are lovable for being that.

Given such pedigree, this was obviously the kind of competition I knew I had to enter. They come along too rarely and I wanted to send the very best gags I could think up. Had I not been distracted by this new job I might have had better final selection to choose from but, then again, I might not. It’s not been an easy month.

The theme, in case you hadn’t picked it up before my slight digression into representations of class in contemporary cartooning, was ‘man in motion’, which sounds like it would be a generously broad and fertile subject. However, after weeks of trying to think up gags about ‘man in motion’, I came to the conclusion that it was a theme fiendishly chosen. Most cartoons are about the opposite of motion. Cartoons are by their very nature a static medium but this is especially true of gag cartoons. Many of the standard cartoon jokes are based around frozen moments of time, such as this beautifully understated gag from Gahan Wilson which I just happened to be looking at earlier today.


Most cartoons usually involve at least one person standing or sitting quite still as they watch another involved in some memorable event. Cartoons are the business of the man dressed as a traffic warden on the comically small desert island, the wife watching TV as her short-sighted husband kisses the coat rack, the conversation over the back fence as a shark swims in the ornamental pool. I can't say that motion figures much in the kind of strange offbeat cartoons that I really enjoy drawing, such as this, this, this, and, of course, this.

That’s not to say that cartoonists never exploit motion. There are some great examples of motion in cartoons but I suspect they are the exception, not the rule. For example, The New Yorker printed this classic by Jack Ziegler.


I had ‘Superman’ written all over my notepad for a month but I never thought of anything this good. This is brilliant because it’s obvious yet not so obvious. In many ways, that’s what defines the really great cartoons. They’re palm-of-your-hand-to-your-forehead obvious as well as laugh-out-loud funny.

Now the competition is finished, I can retire my list of man-in-motion ideas, perhaps salvage the better gags and append them to my enormous general ‘cartoon ideas’ Word document. Last night I opened that up for the first time in weeks and I sat down with blank sheets of paper and started to draw cartoons without a theme. It was hard not to think motion. It might take me weeks to get out of the habit. In the meantime, here’s the first draft of the very first cartoon I drew for the 'Man in Motion' competition and I think it was probably the worst to reach this stage. It never made the first cut and I never worked to improve it, probably because it's only funny to me. Probably because it's all about me and my current preoccupations.


Wednesday, 30 October 2013

Political Cartoonists on 'The One Show'

It's rare that I post things taken from TV but I thought this feature on political cartooning worth recording for posterity. It includes some good clips of Martin Rowson at his grouchiest best, though how Nadine Dorries managed to get involved I'm really not sure.

Tuesday, 29 October 2013

John W Henry: The Cartoon Strip - Episode 3

I’ve been drawing a cartoon strip for the LFC fanzine, Red All Over The Land and this (below the usual Tuesday ramble) is part 3. I don’t know how many of these I’ll draw. I have another finished bar the lettering and the colouring but I’m beginning to wonder if I’ll make it through the entire season.

I suppose part of my problem is the lack of feedback. I send the strip off and about a week later my complimentary copy arrives. I don’t know if any matchday supporters bother to read it or laugh or simply used it to wipe the mustard off their chin after Suarez’s sublime goal on Saturday. I also suppose it’s a strange thing to draw a comic strip about but John W Henry is a bit of a cult figure in my mind. I like the guy’s humour, his non-corporate way of doing business. I love that he owns Liverpool. My new allegiance to the Boston Red Sox also means that I was up late into the night watching a strange Russian website showing the World Series.

The Red Sox won or I believe they did. The commentary was in Russian but that’s preferable to watching the American feeds. I think I’d go mad if I were American. The breaks for ads are interminable. Russians, on the other hand, don’t seem to have any and they just stayed on the coverage, watching the crowd, players, and management waiting to get the green light once the brash American advertisers have finished shouting in people’s faces.

As I watched the baseball, I was also trying to do a firmware update on my Samsung Note 10.1 which I’m beginning to regret buying. Not that I don’t love it. It’s simply the best tablet I’ve ever bought and my favourite bit of technology. However, for the amount of cartooning I do on it, the screen simply isn’t good enough. I’m pretty sure it’s why my eyes were so bad over the weekend. I compared it with a Retina display on friend’s newish iPad and the two displays are worlds apart. I was dumb. I should have waited but then I couldn’t afford the newer more expensive Samsung Note so I don’t know who I’m kidding. Perhaps I should put a price of £66 an hour on everything I do, as somebody recently suggested in the comments was the least a freelancer should ever ask. But if I did, would anything I do ever get published? I guess I’m one of those amateurs who the great Harlan Ellison says make it tough for the professionals. But the truth is that we make it tough for ourselves too.

Since I’m rambling about vague things that struck me this morning, Neil Gaiman is at it again. I’ve written before about how ubiquitous Neil Gaiman has become. He always seems to go the places I want to go and to do everything bigger and better than I could ever do. It’s like he’s a walking window into a different world where somebody with my exact tastes actually has a following. I wrote yesterday that I was a big Lou Reed fan and naturally, today, Gaiman is writing in The Guardian about how he was a big Lou Reed fan, saw Reed perform live, interviewed Reed, dressed like Reed, even named his child after a character in Walk on the Wild Side. It means, of course, that Gainman has excellent taste but it also means that he’s become even more ubiquitous in my life. He’s beginning to feel like the lodger in the corner of my psyche and what’s worse: he’s not even paying any rent.

Monday, 28 October 2013

The Day Lou Reed Died

Sunday was just a downright bad day.

It began with me opening my morning paper to the results of the Observer/Jonathan Cape graphic short story contest. My story about an old man deciding to do something different in the face of the world’s mediocrity had been overlooked in favour of a thing about a woman having a colonic. I then discovered that Lou Reed had died. The day ended with me getting locked out of the house due to a broken lock on the back gate and my having to climb over a six foot wall. Perhaps I was thinking about the old man in my short story. Perhaps I’ve just been playing too many computer games lately. I thought it would be easy. The climbing part was. The jumping off just had a few unforeseen results such as a jarred knee, slightly sprained wrist, and my feeling like a blithering idiot. What was I thinking?

I guess I wasn’t thinking. My mind was probably on other things such as why the lock would choose to break on such a spectacularly crap day.

In addition to everything, my eyes have given out and I need to rest them. They’re suffering from the sheer exhaustion of looking at screens, both tablet and desktop. It’s been weeks of non-stop work building websites, editing video, doing Photoshop work, and then, in my downtime, doing my own work: these hasty bits of blogging and drawing strips and gag cartoons. I know the signs. I’ve been here before. I’m shot, knackered, depressed, fed up, but mainly just exhausted. My eyes need some time to recover.

Yet it’s strange how these things happen together and feel causally linked. Yesterday the papers warned that the storm of the century would land. It felt like the pathetic fallacy: when you believe the world reflects your emotions.

I had spent my day wondering about the colonic winner, wondering what I could have done differently and realising that nothing I could do would have improved my chances. I don’t mind losing to something where I can see the gap, a sense of something beyond my skills to create. It’s frustrating to lose to something which makes you feel underwhelmed. I guess it’s about shared mindsets. The world of people having colonics is so far from the world I see every day where austerity bites and alcohol give people the only reprieve from living. The things that preoccupy my mind aren’t the things that might preoccupy somebody who would care to write a story about a colonic or, I guess, anybody who would pick the colonic story as their winner. Is that really the most important thing we can talk about in the graphic form? I hate to point the finger and say ‘class’ but I wonder if these things aren’t just a middle-class bias coming out. If that’s the case, then working-class me stood no chance. It was never in my destiny to be photographed looking attractive sitting on the floor before open patio windows, looking out on a sunny garden with a handsome pedigree dog lying beside me. Whiskered and miserable in front of a Manchester canal might be closer to the truth and who the hell wants to see that?

It was amid such gloomy thoughts that I heard that Lou Reed had died.

It wasn’t unexpected but it hit me hard. With the exception of hearing the news that Eric Morecambe had died, I never weep for celebrities. This was different. I tend to be loyal in my choice of music. There are few musicians who work I dearly love and whose work I listen to constantly. Reed was one of the few. I’ve always adored the albums he made with the Velvet Underground through to his Transformer and Berlin albums of the 70s, and then New York in the 1980s. Admittedly, in recent years I’ve struggled to maintain that love. Of course, I’d heard stories about his being difficult with journalists but that seemed like a good thing to be. Being difficult with journalists is synonymous to being difficult with stupidity and who wants to give stupidity an easy ride? Stories of his being rude to fans disturbed me more because I’d always wanted to meet him. Yet I had struggled to enjoy his recent albums which seemed to be delightfully sneering towards his audience. I’d so desperately wanted his last album, ‘Lulu’, to be good. I’ve written in the past that I hoped if it was going to be a failure (as some had predicted) then it would be one of those spectacular failure that are better than most of the dross out there. I could never say that it was. Now I feel like I need to give it another listen. I don’t want to think it was his last album.

Reed never influenced me as a musician. I’m not musical. I can Travis pick a guitar badly, slightly less than badly when I put the hours in and remember to let my nails grow on my right hand. Yet he was one of those rare figures who inspired me to be creative and to write. He was part of a New York scene that fascinated me from far away. Reading the comments on the Rolling Stone article that broke the news, I noticed some Americans were suggesting that the Velvet Underground weren’t worthy of licking The Beatles’ shoes. From the perspective of somebody living just outside Liverpool, I thought it the other way around. Perhaps it’s just an attraction to the unknown. As much as I liked Lennon, I never really liked The Beatles, even at their experimental best. It’s the raw sound of the Velvets that excited me. I loved the dark gothic complexity of Reed’s lyrics, the bacchanalian riot of the world he experienced. His music gave me a window on the freaks and the weirdoes, the addicts and sexual misfits. In many ways, it a vision of humanity at its worst where the banality of civil order had broken down and people were left twisted into carnival shapes. It was full of difficulty and contradictions. It was bleak but truthful and vital because of that.

My most abiding memory of Lou Reed was an interview he gave to BBC2 around the time of his releasing New York. In it he talked about writing. ‘All good writing is rewriting,’ he said and that stuck with me. I repeat it as a mantra and still offer it to anybody who ever asks me for writing advice. From that moment, I have always written blisteringly quickly but I rewrite slowly. I also learned to appreciate his uncompromising attitude towards culture. Reed could be scathing and sometimes brutal but that was his appeal. His ad libs in this live version of ‘Sweet Jane’ are among my very favourite things:

‘Here’s fucking Barbara Streisand… Fuck her and the little people.’

‘I give good clerk…’

‘Are you political Lou? […] Give me an issue I’ll give you a tissue. Wipe my ass with it.’

‘Fuck Radio Ethiopia, man. I’m Radio Brooklyn.’

‘If you write as good as you talk, nobody reads you.’

It’s well to remember the misanthropy of his art, especially now. New York is full of angry songs, which is perhaps why I like it. Anger is a good emotion if channelled correctly. I feel like I need to channel it now. I learned about his death via The Guardian but immediately found that Rolling Stone were among the first to report it. That’s where I read a comment that somebody posted to say that Lou Reed hadn’t died and that it was all a hoax.

Of course, I was relieved but cursing the sick bastards who would make a joke out of something like that. Then I discovered that the hoax was actually the claim that it was a hoax.

Isn’t that grim? To know that people write hoax stories about an artist’s death? I’ve written fake stories in the past but I like to think they had a purpose and never would I write anything so callous or cruel. Satirists generally do what they do because they want a better world. These hoaxers make the world more alarming and bleak. They also have form. The website, (I won't do them the service of giving them an actual link to boost the Google rank), seems to be some deliberately constructed algorithm to harvest readers. It’s hoax but it’s not satire. It’s blackhat operations; webdesign by bad guys. The story ‘Kenneth Branagh goes “Gangnam Style”’ is the same as the story ‘Chris Elliot goes “Gangnam Style” and even ‘Lou Reed goes “Gangham Style”’.

At the height of the news breaking, it was easy to miss such detail.

This morning, I wish I could sum all this up but I’m still aching from jumping off a six foot wall onto concrete. I’m lucky I didn’t split my shins. My spirit is really shot after the disappointment of the graphic short story contest and I now have to bike through these torrential rains to post some cartoons to another contest and to buy a new lock for the gate. I feel a little bit lost knowing that my already small world has just grown a little smaller. It feels like Lou Reed was there when I set out trying to be some kind of artist. His death came on a day when I thought it about time I stopped trying to climb these perilously high walls.

Sunday, 27 October 2013

The Observer/Cape/Comica Graphic Short Story Prize Losing Entry

Well it's Sunday so that means the Guardian/Observer have just announced the winner of this year's Observer/Cape/Comica Graphic Short Story Prize. Congratulations, of course, to the winner for her story story 'Colonic'. Of course, I'm somewhat disappointed to have lost. I put so much effort into this competition that, on reflection, I shouldn't have bothered. I never have any success submitting anything to The Guardian. I should have followed my instincts. I drew my Wilco Strip which I lost faith in, my Putin strip which I thought was too silly and political, and my Elephant in the Room strip which was the most autobiographical but which I ruined by trying to be too clever by sticking a Sparks strip in the middle of it.

In the end, I wrote and drew this fourth story called 'The Old Man In A Tree'. It's about one of my usual themes: people trying to do something different and meaningful in the face of so much mediocrity. A ridiculous amount of time and effort went into this competition (4 strips drawn, one submitted) but here in its miserable losing glory is my story...

Friday, 25 October 2013

Suspicions Fall On Greek Family


The Cadbury Creme Beckham

Where has all the treacle toffee gone?

It’s the end of October and the fifth of next month looms large in this house yet still I’ve not found treacle toffee in the shops. Our tradition is to eat treacle toffee on bonfire night but buying treacle toffee this year is almost as difficult as finding the traditional Jimmy Savile mannequin to burn.

The problem we face is that we live in a brand culture and there is no brand ‘treacle’. Supermarkets rarely stock something as old and established as ‘treacle toffee’. Instead, they want to stock familiar modern favourites repackaged for the month. They want to sell me Cadbury Scream Eggs for Halloween…

You might say it is clever marketing but it is also the dreadful bastardisation of multiple traditions. Remember when Easter eggs were just for Easter and would be sold off cheap the Monday after Easter Sunday? Now they’re all year around. Perhaps it made sense to accountants that Cadbury Creme Eggs needed to have 365 day stock levels to justify the costs of the machinery. However, I suspect it’s probably marketing people who knew that brand identification is far more potent than mere tradition. They adapt their products in order to make them suitable for the occasion. You can eat Easter Eggs at Halloween, Christmas, the height of summer and some whiz with a catchphrase gun will put his knee on the back of your neck and fire a catchy slugline into your brain. Suddenly Easter eggs at Halloween make sense. No doubt they’ll soon be available for Black Friday, a consumer holiday which has wormed its way over here from America. Indeed, have you noticed that we seem to have more ‘Days’ than in the past? It’s as if the marketing geeks had realised there were too many large gaps in the year when we weren’t being ordered to buy their crap. Since when did Valentines Day, Father’s Day or Mother’s Day have the same significance as Christmas and Easter?

Yet it’s not just Creme Eggs that have taken over or traditional festivals. Brand recognition is everywhere as if to prove that people are effectively too lazy to think for their selves. You like Mars Bars so Mars sells you the confectionery in every format: large and small, fingers and toffees, ice cream and cake bars. You can wear Mars Bar clothing and carry your lunch in the Mars Bar lunch box inside the Mars Bar rucksack on your back. One Brand to Rule them all and in the darkness bind them.

Novelty and individuality are outmoded in this crass consumer culture. Product lines are converging everywhere. Will Smith not only acts in a film but writes it, sings the theme song, produces the monstrosity, and then franchises out his seed in the form of his largely talentless offspring. Movies are become dominated by the same staple of figures from comic books. Soon Batman will meet Superman. The Avengers brought together difference franchises which will be spun and varied until the Church of Stan Lee stops converting every new born freckle into a DC neophyte. New films can’t get funding but franchises are rebooted at every opportunity. No sooner does Christopher Nolan finish a definitive Batman series than Warner Brothers want to start again.

‘New’ is disappearing from our lexicon or it now simply means ‘more of the same’. The ‘new’ iPad is pretty much like the old ‘iPad’. New chocolate is simply old chocolate given new wrappings. Nobody wants to invest the effort to make new products. Why can’t Cadbury make Creme Skulls for Halloween? Zombie heads might have been more appropriate or even Cadbury Creme Pumpkins. Does it take so little imagination that I can come up with these ideas in the span of writing a sentence? Of course not but that would require retooling of an entire production line. So we have eggs instead, despite their having no significance to the ancient festival of All Hallows Eve. It’s utterly postmodern, utterly calculated and utterly dehumanising.

How easy must it have been to make creme eggs with a slightly different coloured fondant rather than create a new product that people might enjoy? We see it everywhere we look with crossovers. Comparethemeerkat produce the Meerkat toys and books. Don’t invest in a writer you’ve never heard about because you can buy a book written by Jordan whose breasts you’ve previously admired…

Yet it’s not just banal celebrity slime who have their own product ranges. Guillermo del Toro has written and directed some sublimely good films but when he hands a 12 page outline for a novel to a writer with whom he then shares credit, you have to wonder about artistic credibility.

Not that artistic credibility matters. We’ve passed the point where consumers can vote with their feet, wallets or purses. The markets are too large for companies to care. What is one lone voice of dissent when Tesco make pre-tax profits in the first half of 2013 of £1.39bn? I complain about their bike stands and they do nothing because I’m insignificant as you are insignificant unless, of course, you are also a brand. Stephen Fry is a brand. He could change things because he is more recognisable than Tesco. He has real power. Almost as much power as the brand Beckham, though Fry, to his credit, puts it to more sensible use.

Beckham, of course, will apparently sell anything, however tangential it might be to his footballing career. He is refashioning himself as the male modern Britannia, a symbol of Britishness. And Beckham is certainly the perfect fit for this modern Britain. He embodies our culture because he is the ultimate vessel: good looking but empty, devoid of much significance but capable of being filled with any corporate message. He is so boring and bland he can advertise anything that doesn’t require him to open his mouth. Indeed, his horrible nasal whine is to his benefit because it means that he can spend his time brooding in ads with his white teeth and rank ugly tattoos, the golden boy of a gelded generation. He is the Cadbury Creme Egg of celebrities; just an empty impotent shell of sugary milk chocolate. One size fits all. Just slip a nozzle up his arse and fill him with whatever different coloured fondant meaning we want this week.

Thursday, 24 October 2013

Fresh Eyes

Well, it’s been a long week of my sitting beside the phone. It never rang. Well, not in a meaningful ‘Hey! You won our competition’ kind of way. Not that I expected to win but I would have liked to have at least placed. ‘Liked’, by the way, is a classic example of understatement. I’d have given an oozing body part to win that competition. However, it’s gone and I move on but immediately find myself at an impasse...

I’ve drawn cartoons all month and I’ve now cartooned myself to a standstill. I have a small pile of gag cartoons sitting on my desk and I can’t look at them and judge their individual merits. I know back when I drew them that they each made me laugh but the laughs have all now gone. Yet I need to reduce this pile of cartoons down to a manageable few which I can submit to a new competition.

I’ve got ten cartoons which I particularly like, though in my mind I’ve managed to narrow them down to about five. The problem I have is reducing them further. As I’ve established in the past, what I find funny isn’t what 99% of people find funny and what 99% of people find funny generally leaves me cold.

I think the complete silence of my phone these last few days proves that it’s probably foolish of me to send work away without having another set of interested eyes look over them. Yet finding interested eyes is next to impossible and asking uninterested eyes is always fraught with problems.

There’s a strange phenomenon that I’ve noticed many times when you ask people to judge your work. I might have mentioned this before but, in case I haven’t, this is what I’ve spotted.

Normally, people approach work as a finished product. You see a painting and you couch your response in terms such as ‘I like that’ or ‘isn’t that ugly’. With cartoons the responses can be more varied. You laugh heartily, smile coolly, or scratch your head. Sometimes you cry out ‘what is this crap?’ and sometimes you fold down the page to show somebody because you’ll think they’ll also enjoy the laugh. It’s the same when reading a novel. ‘I really loved that’ or ‘it was rubbish’ tend to be the two extremes.

However, when a book or cartoon hasn’t been published and it’s handed to you by its author or illustrator, its ink still wet beneath your thumb, the responses become very different. They’re usually along the lines of:

‘You should have made it a hippotimous...’

‘Why don’t you turn Lady Smith into a Nigerian bareknuckle fighter?’

'I’d have set this in Greenland and made them all gnome lords…’

‘It would have been a funnier cartoon if it wasn’t about nurses but about traffic cops, that the patient wasn’t a jockey but a Ford Transit, and the punchline somehow involved South Wales...’

In other words, when you give people work that isn’t in a sense ‘finished’, they think that you want them to rewrite it for you, strip it down and explain how they would have done it differently. Hand a cartoon to a non-cartoonist and they start giving you advice about how to write a punchline. Hand a novel to a non-writer and they’ll suddenly start giving you lessons on narrative structure. It always happens and it's horrible being on the other side of it.

So, I sit here looking at my cartoons and not knowing what to do. Hand them to friends and family whose response will be so critical that I’ll want to abandon cartooning completely or just send them off with barely a notion of if they’re funny or not…

Tonight I’ll sleep on it and tomorrow morning perhaps try to induce amnesia with a large mallet so I’ll be able to look at my cartoons with fresh albeit slightly out of focus eyes…

Flirting With Jacqueline Bisset

I very rarely search for my real self on the internet. The last time I did it was probably three or four years ago when a search for my actual birth name thankfully came back largely empty. At the time, I thought I should perhaps grab ‘my’ domain name, just in case publishing fame should come knocking, but I never did. I searched today and discovered that not only is my name (but not me) quite prevalent across the web, there are two or three characters going by my name, one of whom has taken out the domain name, another with the Twitter account and then pretty much anything to which you could connect my name. One is a British somewhat dauby painter who lives not a hundred miles away. The other is brash American around whom the world apparently rotates.

Because I have a relatively unusual real name (I’m not a John Smith) it is relatively rare that I see it in print. There was a stalker, I remember, who had my name and it worried me that people might think I was into stalking. But other than that, my real name has remained out of the public eye, which makes it disconcerting to read people boasting of their accomplishments using my name. It feels like I’m looking into a parallel universe where I didn’t have qualms about working as the real me. ‘Welcome to the Derek Smiles website’ is the way these other me’s are doing it and had our name been Derek Smiles. ‘Read the Derek Smiles Newsletter’ was the another I saw done by the American me. Subscribers: 7, which means he’s also about as successful as me.

I can’t decide if they’re wrong or I’ve been wrong all these years. I hate all that ego culture where the name is more important than the work. I suppose I hate it because it has become the predominant cultural force over the last twenty years. On the occasional times I have to visit Superdrug or Boots, it shocks me how often a celebrity name is attached to a perfume or aftershave. I really don’t want to smell like David Beckham’s armpits but it’s even worse when you’re wearing an aftershave named after a fictional character such as 007 who never actually had real armpits. It’s why I admired the Baconface project so much and why, with a few reservations, I like reading about Banksy.

Yet perhaps I'm wrong. Perhaps the only things that matter are the names. Was I any better or more noble when I wrote a book of letters boasting of the celebrities contained within?

Yesterday, I wrote a long rambling email about my experiences writing under a pseudonym. A few years ago, I thought it was the right thing to do. William Donaldson had done it when writing his Henry Root letters and there is no finer spoof letter writer than the mighty Donaldson. In America, the great Ted L Nancy did it to the point that most people though he was Jerry Seinfeld until he was revealed to be a Seinfeld friend and stand-up, Barry Marder. Now I think it was probably the wrong thing to do. It means that nobody knows me or can even attach my name to all of my very disparate body of work.

Yet a pseudonym takes you away from yourself and allows you to create a slightly better world. As Stan I could be a very different person: bold, confident, cheeky, sly, and flirtatious. Very flirtacious. As myself, I could never flirt with a woman. As Stan, I could try to seduce Jacqueline Bisset.

Jacqueline would have featured in Volume 2 of Stan’s letters had I been more determined searching for an agent or publisher. I think they’re the better and funnier letters, written after volume 1 was published. Fearing that the UK might associate my name with a book in the bookshops (how naively optimistic), I wrote mainly to Americans, so the majority of the book are letters to and from Hollywood stars. Bisset was Stan at his randiest, which is perhaps unsurprising because I was the kind of youth moved deeply by The Deep. Not that I was a particularly big fan of nautical adventures of the 1970s, you understand, but because I am a very big fan of nautical adventures starring Jacqueline Bisset circa 1977 and shown repeated on ITV throughout the 1980s.

[caption id="attachment_3266" align="alignright" width="468"]TheDeep Click to enbiggen[/caption]
If you've not seen the film (and, these unenlightened days, that’s more than likely), let me give you a quick précis. Basically, the plot goes like this: Jacqueline wears a white t-shirt in deep waters before climbing up onto the deck of her yacht whist it bobs around in a cooling wind offshore wind. There’s a certain perkiness about the scene which I won’t dwell on in this family friendly environment and other things happen during the film, even if they don’t really matter so much as the lovely Jacqueline wearing her white t-shirt and bobbing around on the deck of her yacht.

My letter to Jacqueline Bisset was one of my better letters. Jacqueline certainly understood Stan’s humour and wrote a very seductive reply on a nice glossy eight by ten which I now keep sealed in an airtight bag along with her hand-written envelope. Would it sound terribly weird to admit that on days when I feel very low, I unseal the bag and inhale deeply? There are not many men who can tell you what Jacqueline Bisset smelt like on one day in May 2010? I’d try to describe if for you but it’s a bit like pears but with a hint of pomegranate and then some mysterious something that I can only assume is ambrosia… And that’s the heavenly stuff not the tinned rice pudding.

However, I digress. As result of yesterday’s email, I’ve recompiled a new PDF of the entire Volume 2 as it sits in manuscript form. I intend to spend today reading it to see if it’s worth finishing it up with the extra letters I’ve received since I last edited it. I might then try it again with agents or publishers. Sometimes I’m too self-defeating. Here I have a finished book that’s both very funny and filled with big star names. Surely that has to be worth something. Doesn’t it? And perhaps I might even try to get it published under my real name...

Wednesday, 23 October 2013

Congratulations Kim and Kayne!

KimandKayneI don’t want to sound like I go around trying to remain deliberately uninformed about these things but I really don’t know much about either Kim Kardashian or Kanye West (right). I saw on the IMDB that they’re getting married but beyond recognising their names from this kind of tangentially-glanced news report, I don’t actually know what they do or why they are famous. Okay, perhaps in some dark recess of my mind a Gollum voice whispers something about Kayne West being a musician but I couldn’t hum you one of his tunes if it were the only thing that could please a firing squad. Of course, I could head over to Wikipedia and do some research but that’s going to take some effort. Yet I’d still like to say something on the occasion of this happy announcement...

Kim Kardashian is allergic to button mushrooms and Kayne West has the elvish word for ‘giant lizard’ tattooed on his right thigh. Kim follows the Shinto religion whilst Kayne owns the largest periwinkle farm in the United States. They decided to get married after watching an episode of ‘Antiques Roadshow’ and they realised they shared a passion for Dutch cuckoo clocks. Kayne dropped to one knee (his bionic one) and grabbed Kim by her left foot which he proceeded to kiss whist chewing licquorice. When he was done, he’d spelled the words ‘Marry me, Kim’ in liquorice kisses all the way up to her ankle. She said 'yes' by blowing a large pink bubble of gum which she cunningly fashioned into a large tick which she held above his head whilst making affirmative 'ping’ noises. Kayne thought it the most romantic thing he’d ever seen since episode 183 of Doctor Who, 'The Lazarus Experiment', when David Tenent accidentally married a pan-dimensional tentacle voiced by Thelma Barlow, aka Mavis from Coronation Street, who Kim and Kayne have subsequently invited to their Who-themed wedding where she’ll be expected to stand menacing next to a wax Tom Baker played convincingly by the real Tom Baker.

Unlike other celebrity marriages which last no more than five years, Kim and Kayne believe that their marriage will endure and, according to Shinto law, they have professed as much to a ritual otter priest. Kim now intends to devote her time to preparing for the wedding which will be held at the same Appalachian yogurt plantation where Kim and Kayne first discovered their intolerance for dairy products. Meanwhile, Kim also intends to pursue her new career writing best-selling tech novels, filling the void she believes exists in the marketplace after the sad passing of Tom Clancy from whom she bought her first gold-plated armoured personnel carrier in 2004. Kayne meanwhile returns to his roots with a techno-trance hip-hop album of cover tracks inspired by Yiddish folk music and the world ‘palimpsest’.

Invites to the wedding will be going out in the next few days, tattooed onto the bottoms of specially trained wedding gibbons. I look forward to hearing the gibbon knocking at my door and I’ll definitely accept with my overly ripe banana of matrimonial happiness.

In the meantime, I wish both Kim and Kayne well, whoever the hell they are...

Stan Madeley Came Back

As I write this, it's the close of a surprising day. I hadn’t opened a copy of Stan’s book in such a long time but today I signed one to send off as a thank you. I like giving my books away. It somehow feels right. I wish I could do it all the time and that I could earn money a different way, perhaps by donations or simple osmosis. It always seemed wrong that money got in the way of people enjoy what I’d written. I wrote spoof letter as Stan because I simply wanted to make strangers laugh and cheer up their dull days. When it turned into a book, I was as surprised as anybody. I’d long since given up hoping that I’d ever be published. That book broke my duck so I can now feel that I’ll never be published again… Such a shame. Stan Volume 2 was so much funnier than the first…

So I signed my book and biked to the Post Office and thought no more about it. Then tonight: a total coincidence. I had an email from out of the blue. Somebody had found me via the ‘Damn United’ website I wrote briefly. More remarkable was that they had read ‘Second Class Male’ from ‘cover to cover and really enjoyed it’.

Oh, isn’t that what people say when they want to get on your good side? Well, perhaps it is but I’m allowing myself a moment to wallow in that praise because that is only the second time a reader has written to me about that book. In fact, before tonight, my entire ‘artistic’ career can be summed up like this: I’ve only ever had one fan but I made two enemies.

The one fan was called ‘George’ and he sent me a Christmas card after my book was published. I replied, sending him a funny letter and a handmade ‘Stan & Sandra’ Christmas card. I never heard from him again. I often wonder who George was, what kind of life he led and why he felt possessed to send Stan a Christmas card.

My two enemies are as memorable as George was mysterious. I always consider Simon Hoggart at The Guardian to be the first enemy of my project. He was definitely the first, rudest and least funny person to reply. He simply returned my letter with a scribbled message: 'not another book of spoof letters'. I should have replied 'not another book of round robin letters' but I felt better than that. My bigger enemy went by the name ‘the Welsh Rottweiler’. He wrote possibly the vilest review in the history of vile Amazon book reviews. It was vicious, snarling, and utterly hateful. It’s as though he’d found a book which offended every particle of his DNA and he’d made it his mission in life to destroy me. He hoped that my book would fail and promised that it would be pulped by January. There was more to it (lots more) but I don’t want to remember it. I don’t know why he did what he did but the review was so painful that it made me numb. If you like horror stories, go click the cover of my book in the sidebar and read the Rottweiler’s review under my book on Amazon. It’s one of the reviews that give me one star. I never did read another review after that and deep down I’m not sure that I’ve ever really recovered. The Rottweiler was the kind of guy that makes you lose faith in humanity.

The thing is: I never understood why this stranger hated me as much as he did. My book wasn’t one of those exploitative pieces of crap written in order to exploit a momentary fad. Perhaps it might have done better if it was. That Christmas I was competing with (and losing to) the Merecat book. Beaten by Martin Amis is one thing but a bloody rat? And I’d worked so hard on my book, trying to make everything in it raise a chuckle from the first page right down the fake photo accreditation on the back. Most writers will tell you their biggest expenditure is ink and paper. Mine was stamps. Hundreds of pounds spent on second class stamps and that was long before I knew I’d get a book advance out of it.

So, this might sound mawkish of me but tonight's email cheered me up when I’ve been feeling particularly down. I’ve been worrying because I fear that my blogging, writing, and cartooning will soon come to an end. It probably will but for one night I can at least feel like a real writer and, really, that’s all I’ve ever wanted.

Tuesday, 22 October 2013

An Apology For My Previous Post About Yam Smuggling

I want to apologise for last night’s post. 2000 words on yams, lesbians, and the youthful Béatrice Dalle... What was I thinking? I sounded like a man ruled by his sex glands, a bush creeping pervert lusting after every newsreader. That’s far from the truth. I can’t say I lust after any newsreader with the exception of George Alagiah. Also, I was only semi-serious about entering into a life of crime. In the cold light of day (actually, the dim light of a torrential October morning) I realise that I stand about as much chance of becoming a successful male gigolo as I do becoming a successful writer or cartoonist.

Today I feel little better (writing that out last night helped) but also a touch more frustrated. I’m walking around with the phone in my back pocket in case the competition people ring to tell me that I’ve won, thereby justifying the years of struggle and poverty in the eyes of my family, friends and the postman who will no longer sneer as he hands me letters for ‘Stan Madeley’. Perhaps I overstate the importance of this phone call but not the problem of the phone in my pocket. It’s a wired-in landline and I’m trailing a cord wherever I go. I think the government should clamp down on these competitions and bring in a rule that they have to ring everybody who entered, just to stop them fretting or accidentally sitting on a full-sized BT handset as I’ve done twice this morning, bruising one buttock (the right) quite severely. Thankfully the left buttock is still looking pretty good so if any work does come in for a male gigolo, I’ll have to work listing slightly leftwards. Now there's an interesting question that's never been asked before in the history of the world: how much work is there out there for a leftward listing male gigalo?

Of course I could go and look at the website where the winners of the competition are to be announced but, for the moment, I prefer to live with the slim chance that I placed in the competition rather than knowing that my effort was consigned to the scrap big alongside every finger painted story about fairies and psychotic rants from the criminally insane. Mine was neither of those. Well, okay, it was a psychotic rant about fairies but I’m not criminal for the reasons I outlined last night: a lack of opportunities and a shortage of sexual charisma.

I don’t have much confidence in my entry, which given all this talk about sex makes it sound mildly obscene. I mean my competition entry rather than the climax of my gigolo work. It was too misanthropic for the happy clappy types who usually get to judge these things. It was also a bit wordy and not that well drawn, as you’ll see in the coming days when I publish it here. You’ll then be able to sit there and shake your heads silently thinking: ‘He thought this stood a chance? He’s closer to that mental edge than I ever suspected. I must remember to visit his blog more often in case I miss his imminent nervous breakdown…’

But listen to me rationalising why I won’t have won. I’ve never won a thing in my life…

I tell a lie. I once won Cricketer of the Year at my school. I won a Martin Scorsese biography from a national newspaper. I also won tickets to a computer fair but I think everybody who entered probably won those. But that’s everything I’ve ever won in my time on this planet. Pretty depressing don't you think?

Yet here I am, in such a negative frame of mind, when I also know there are people out there reading this. It’s particularly good to see that I’m picking up new readers all across the globe. I’m hoping I’m connecting with an intelligent but slightly angry demographic who understand what I’m about. That said, it’s a bit disappointing when a man offers to send a free signed book to anybody that wants one – and not any of that vanity published crap either, I meant a proper book – and he also offers to personalise it with a cartoon. And not a single person takes him up on the deal. Perhaps you all thought I was joking. Well, I wasn’t. I never joke. Except about lusting after George Alagiah. That was a joke. I meant Tim Marshall on Sky News…

Monday, 21 October 2013

On Various Topics Including Yam Smuggling

Okay, I’m starting a new mental health regimen. I’m trying to normalise myself. Not in the fundamentalist Christians curing homosexuals kind of way. I don’t need that kind of help. Or, at least, not unless somebody can cure me off these secular feelings I have for busty French brunettes in black stockings who always look like a youthful Béatrice Dalle… What I mean is that I want to become one with the common man, though, again, I don’t mean that biblically.

I’m just tired of being wrong about everything and being told that I’m wrong. I’m wrong about the environment (damn you, Guardianistas for leading me astray). I’m wrong about manners and screw you if you don’t agree. I’m wrong about the internet (let’s hear it for more cat memes!) and I’m wrong about the decay of contemporary culture, language, and like whatever… Yeah? My family, who mean more to me than even my writing drawing and blogging, they constantly tell me to abandon my writing, drawing, and blogging. Now that I have a little real work, they have a taste for it. They now want me to devote myself to it utterly. ‘How much longer can you go on?’ they asked today. I need to get into industry where the money is. ‘Think of the future’ they told me and damn it, they’re always right. I need to make money and I need to make money quickly.

So that’s why I’ve sat down well past midnight tonight and intend to figure this out. This is going to be one of those long stream of consciousness blog posts. In fact I intend to write it very long, beyond your ability to make it to the end, so you should quit now especially if you have any moral qualms about my long time interest in the business of crime.

I often wonder if I would commit a crime if I could get away with it. I don’t mean the mugging an old lady kind of crimes which naturally sicken me. I mean robbing a bank. I see myself as the Robert Redford everyman figure, using his brains to get what he wants but harming nobody except the system. My bank robbery would be directed by Sidney Lumet and set in the 1970s. It would have the theme music to the original ‘The Taking of Pelham 123’. Bam ba da ba dam… You know… My accomplices would be Walter Matthau, Jack Klugman, and the great Robert Vaughn. My love interest would be provided by Karen Black, who sadly died earlier this year. I used to love those films with Karen Black. I now realise I’ll have to rewatch Capricorn One tomorrow. I think it accounts for my attraction to cross-eyed women. I always remember cross eyed women I meet in life. I’ve only met two, both at university, and they were both stunningly beautiful.

Bored you yet?

Anyway, my crew would gain entry via the sewers, using a thermal lance to break into the vault after months of gradually cutting through solid concrete despite my fear of a tunnel collapse. But now am I just thinking Charles Bronson in The Great Escape?

Insignificant fact: Bronson was Lithuanian and I always thought I was a quarter Lithuanian due to my grandmother claiming to have been born there. However, my father suspected she was actually Russian and that my great grandparents had claimed Lithuanian nationality to disguise the fact they were White Russians fleeing the revolution…

Of course, if I am a quarter Russian, then perhaps I could become part of the new Russian mafia that’s controlling the globe. I like the idea of working for some top of their game criminal family, perhaps as a consigliere like Robert Duvall in The Godfather. I’d simply nod and men would break other men in half. Failing that, I could become an underworld enforcer, complete with incomprehensible tattoos on my knuckles that would strike fear into any expat Russian who saw my hands. Not sure I’d make a good enforcer but I could ask at the local gym to see how long it would take them to make my 6’ 2” frame 6’2” wide. I hear steroids do strange things to your testicles so I need to decide quickly since I’m also considering getting into prostitution.

I figure male escort work would provide money and wouldn’t compromise my wanting to write, blog, and cartoon. The only problem is that I don’t think women would pay for my body, not in the state it’s currently in. If I can hardly bear to look at it myself, I’m not sure women would want to look at it. I’m also not entirely sure what I’d be getting myself into. You see, I’m currently doing some freelance web design and I don’t know how much to charge for designing and building a website. If I can’t name a price for that, how would I even begin to consider the rates for male escort work? Do you print up a price list? Do the prices change according to erogenous zones you explore? Has anybody done a time and motion study? If so, perhaps they could teach me the right motions. Bum tish…

Then again, it didn’t work out for John Buck in Midnight Cowbody and the young John Voight had more going for him and he still ended up turning cheap tricks in a hotel bathroom. I’m probably more Ratso Rizzo anyway.

I always liked that track called ‘Florida Fantasy’ which Rizzo daydreams to. It always amused me that the music to Rizzo’s dreams of becoming an escort to rich Florida women became the theme music to the BBC chilren’s show, Wildtrack, hosted by Tony Soper.  However, I didn’t know that until I just checked. I actually thought it was the tune to ‘Animal Magic’. Knowing the truth ruins it since I’ve gone all these years imagining Johnny Morris pleasuring rich Florida women whilst making funny voices like a hippopotamus.

But back to prostitution: I suddenly realise that I do have a connection. When I was writing another blog, I exchanged emails with a man who claimed to be working in prostitution in Spain. He invited me to visit and to introduce me to all the girls. Unfortunately, at the time, I was pretending to be a six foot buxom stunner and there was some slight suggestion on my behalf that I would consider joining a stable. It all fell through, of course, once I remembered that although I am over six feet tall, I’m not a stunner and my legs are as hairy as they are long.

Incidentally, despite appearances, I’ve not taken drugs tonight. Nor am I drunk. I’m just very depressed and this is how it sometimes manifests itself after eating lots of dark chocolate McVitie’s digestives.

Speaking of drugs: I have considered drug dealing but that doesn’t appeal to me because I’m not keen on being around people whose noses are always running. It’s partly a hygiene fetish, I have, particular when it comes to other people’s hygiene. Crusted noses are a big no when it comes to employment. I was in Greggs in Manchester last week and the woman scratched her nose and then touched her bottom. She thought nobody was watching but I noticed. It made me feel slightly uneasy eating my cheese pasty so I don’t know how I’d react to heroin addicts who haven’t even the convenience of a brown paper bag to keep them clean…

It’s a shame, I suppose, that dark chocolate McVitie’s digestives aren’t a banned substance because I could certainly enjoy dealing those, though I don’t know what that would do for my habit. I’d probably OD or end up like Tony Montana at the end of Scarface, though my desk would be covered in digestives, my white suit spoiled by the dark chocolate goodness.

The other reason I couldn’t deal drugs is that I really don’t want to handle anything that’s been up another person’s rectum. I know it’s the same issue of hygiene but I think it’s more significant than that. It’s the same reason why I never understand people who want to work in sewers…

When I was a kid, sewers fascinated me. It was amazing to think of these tunnels that ran under the streets. I’d see them in films and always wanted to go down them to explore. Then, at some point, I realised that what films didn’t mention about sewers is that those lovely little subterranean canals would in real life be filled with what are euphuistically called ‘floaters’. That little underground Venice would actually be as filthy and sinking as, well, the real Venice…

Now I think of it, this puts a bit of a spanner in my plans to rob a bank via the sewers. I’m not sure I could spend weeks chipping through concrete whilst in close proximity to faecal matter. Also, the great Karen Black died earlier this year, so what’s the point? You can’t have a great 1970s crime movie without Karen Black.

So the bank is out of the question. What about the prostitution? What it would take to become a pimp and maintain my own stable of girls? I suppose I’d have to import them, which wouldn’t make me feel good. People smuggling is a horrible business and I don’t think I’d want to be part of it. I have, however, often wondered if I’d be any good as a smuggler. It seems such an interesting line of work, hiding things in other things. I’d love to spend my days trying to figure out how to open a coconut and reseal it without anybody being the wiser. I’d probably specialise in coconuts, or at least large fruit. You couldn’t smuggler a family of Chinese refugees in a large yam so at least I’d know that my work was morally clean in that respect. I’d probably smuggle high end consumer goods, such as the Samsung Note 10.1 (2014 edition) which is considerably cheaper abroad… Could I get it into a coconut or a yam? Interesting question. If only Samsung would send be a sample to test. Of course, I’d also have to source some yams…

Smuggling also seems a very easy job since the amount of stuff entering the country is huge compared to what’s searched. For example, if the yams didn’t work out, I’d buy a large consignment of novelty bike horns. At least 20,000. The sort with the large black rubber balls on the end. I’d hide my contraband in the balls, knowing that nobody would be foolish enough to deafen themselves by testing every single horn.

But this isn’t getting me any closer to deciding how I'm going to make cash quickly. I need to make money easily but without giving up my best hours to some hopeless job. Cartooning and writing aren't doing it for me so I need to think of some other way…

So, money. How to get it...

I suppose high level fraud is always an option but I don’t have the connections. I’d probably have to join the Conservative Party but they don’t allow anybody with my accent to join. Plus there’d probably be nothing left once I got there. The bankers seem to be doing a good job of emptying the vaults…

I suppose that only leaves the more unusual careers in crime. International hired hitman has a certain ring to it but I’m not sure about the hours. Also, I think I’m stubborn enough to want to have a say in the people I’d be hired to hit. I’d probably set the bar quite high and only take out criminals, dictators, and managers of boy bands.

I’m now getting tired and I suppose I should sleep on this. I’ve not written enough but you’ll have stopped reading a page ago. I can now say or do anything, confess my darkest fantasy… I always had a crush on that newsreader who turned out to be a lesbian. Didn’t see that one coming… I remember she announced that she was a lesbian in the same interview that she also announced that she enjoyed listening to The Archers. Stan wrote her a letter expressing his profound shock and disgust that she had admitted to such abhorrent behaviour and that he wouldn’t watch her again until she stopped listening to The Archers. I often wonder if she got the letter or understood that I was mocking the people who criticised her for being a lesbian. I sometimes feel terrible that she might have thought I was criticising her for being a lesbian.

It’s now 3.12. I didn’t intend to write this much, especially about yams and lesbians. I thought it was still about 1am. But here I am no closer to figuring out what criminal career I should pursue. I’ve not even talked about the doubts I have about becoming a cat burglar (pros: the clothes, the prowling; cons: dogs, broken glass, the possibility I would have to grow a David Niven moustache).

I’m going to bed before I start to talk nonsense.

The Unhappy Generalist

I’m not fun to be around this morning. Really losing the enthusiasm for everything… I hate not blogging. Blogging means that my brain is occupied with things that interest me: culture, politics, cartoons, art, films, music, misanthropy. Instead, I’m trying to download a 1.2gb file via Wetransfer that keeps stopping after 500mb. It’s related to my new work meaning that I need to get this working…

My life routinely takes these familiar detours back into computing. The world is crying out of people who can use computers and, for my sins, I’ve always been a pretty good generalist: somebody who can jump between dozens of packages to produce half decent results quickly and cheaply. For instance, last night I wanted an animated butterfly graphic so I Googled a butterfly image, loaded it into Photoshop, extruded the shape which a threw over into a package to make the OBJ file suitable for Maya. Created a quick UV map, which I loaded back into Photoshop, dropped the texture of the butterfly on the roughly butterfly shaped UV map. Then the lot loaded back into Maya, where I created a quick skeleton and did a rigid bind. Animated the wings flapping. Set up camera and lights and batch rendered it via Mental Ray. Loaded VirualDub to create an AVI. Took the AVI back into Photoshop to create an animated GIF to stick on a website. There might have been an easier way but I did all that on the fly and the result was okay. It took me perhaps twenty minutes.

I never know if this kind of skill is meaningful or even how to price it. I don’t have certificates in any of this stuff. It’s just things I’ve learned over the years and none of it never really makes me happy. Happiness is writing something that makes me sit back at the end and think: I couldn’t have done better this time. I’m happy when finishing a cartoon and the image is clean, the figures roughly human, and the caption the best I could do. I’m happiest when walking not running, when riding on my bike and not stuck on a commuter special.

The world, however, always seems to have other plans for me. No matter how much I yearn to be that kind of artistic individual I so admire, the world drags me back to perform the role of the geek, the fixer, the grafter who can get the job done. The things I’ve wanted to be recognised for always seem beyond me. I set out to write the funniest spoof letters book ever written and I thought I'd done that. Just the world didn't seem to agree. The Timewaster book is still selling year on year. I have a pile of mine here I can't give away (if you want a copy, email me. You can have a copy and I'll even draw a cartoon inside). Fate wants me to be the Code Monkey. This morning I had things I wanted to write about but, instead, my mind is focussed on the work piling up ahead of me: a website to build, a video to complete, After Effects magic to conjure, images to Photoshop… The annoying part of this new daily routine is it undermines all the effort I’ve put into blogging over the last few months. I wanted to establish a pattern so anybody who reads me regularly would know that I’m always updating this site.

So, this blog post is my way of saying that I hope you all won’t give up on me. I’m trying to find a way of balancing all this work but it’s taking a little time.

Saturday, 19 October 2013

The Twisted Mathematics of The £30 iPad

That I didn’t blog yesterday makes me feel lousy today. I had so many jobs to do that by the time I’d finished I didn’t have the energy or motivation to write. The most interesting job I tackled was fitting castors to a table that didn’t have means of attaching castors. I am not one of the world’s natural handymen. I’m not at home fixing things in the shed and only go there as a last resort to save a few pounds or escape the world. Yesterday I did both and, in the process, manage to make the castors fit and even swivel, after a fashion. I also used a metal angle grinder for the first time in my life and it was every bit as thrilling and dangerous as that sounds. The sparks were spectacular as I cut off the pins to the new castors I’d bought from Wilkinson’s (£2.50 for four). Less spectacular was the moment I thought I’d set the shed on fire or the moment I realised that freshly ground metal is somewhat hot to touch or the moment I dropped the aforementioned metal onto a plastic bucket which it proceeded to melt...

I’ve also been cartooning. I worked on three new cartoons yesterday but I’m not sure they’re worth finishing. A fresh start today and I’m hoping for better ideas…

Trawling the web in search of ideas this morning, I did come across a site which was offering crazy deals on consumer goods. I enjoy these bargain websites because I always enjoy the sport of spotting ‘the catch’. You can always guarantee that there’s a catch when people start offering free money, free holidays, cheap technology… I like the challenge of figuring out the clever wrinkle that makes the seemingly magical offer quite possible in the real world.

This particular website is called Quibids and they have a very clever scheme. Go see if for yourself but, please, don’t be tempted to bid until you’ve spotted the catch, figured out the logic and then consulted a trained mental health professional.

I hadn’t heard of these so called ‘penny auctions’ before this morning but Quibids basically advertises itself as an internet auction where users can buy high class technology for next to nothing. Want a brand new iPad for £30? Then Quibids say that you can. And the remarkable thing is that they’re right. You can. However, as always, the devil lurks at the door to Detail’s bedroom.

Just like eBay, Quibids has a clock counting down on each item but unlike eBay who encourage you to put your bid in at the last moment before the clock stops, putting in a bid on Quibids adds seconds to the clock. You also pay 40p every time you bid on an item and a bid increases the sale price by a penny. I’ve been watching people bidding on a 32gb Google Nexus 10 this morning (currently £8.71) and the clock keeps counting down to one second before a new bid comes in and the clock goes back up to 10 or 15 seconds. This will keep happening until nobody bids in those final seconds and one lucky person gets the item.

It sounds fiendishly simple and it is. However, the really fiendish part (aka ‘the catch’) is that everybody who bids on that item has also paid something towards it.

Consider the famous £30 iPad: the headline is that one person has paid £30 for an iPad but that’s 3000 penny bids at 40p each. That’s £1200 of bids for something that, depending on the model, might cost £350-700. There’s no mention of the countless other people who contributed money but walked away empty handed. I suppose, because the winner’s total bids are knocked off the final price of the item, it encourages you to keep pumping more money into the system so you don’t lose your investment. The more you’ve bid, the more you’re locked into a cycle of bidding, especially since they also allow you to buy the same item at full retail price minus the cost of your bids.

It’s interesting business model because it allows the company to advertise that a person bought an iPad for £30 but they don’t mention the countless other people who contributed the other £1170 in that bidding war. How often does the average Quibid user lose a bid? I don’t know but the economics of the system are fascinating because it relies on a basic human instinct shared by every bad poker player: the inability to get out when you’re only ankle deep in the quicksand.

Theoretically speaking, the only way this system makes sense is if I were going to buy a Samsung Google Nexus 10 32Gb tablet anyway. Then I might be tempted to buy hundreds of bids to stand a change of getting it substantially cheaper but knowing that anything I bid would still go towards the item should I lose. Take this further: I would then need a strategy to win. So, I don’t bet early. Only suckers bid for this Samsung tablet when it’s at £8. I should wait until the product is in the range I expect it to go for. £30 for a tablet? So we start betting at £25. Discounting concurrent bidding which can knock our figures off a little, I establish a pattern of making alternate bids, meaning I don’t outbid myself on every price £25.01, £25.02… So that means for every £10 the price rises, that’s 1000 penny bids, of which I must contribute 500 to be fairly certain of winning in the £25-£35 price range. That’s 500x40p or £200… If the price rises beyond that, things begin to get seriously ugly. It will cost me £100 in bids for every £5 the price rise. But here we’re also getting into gambler’s logic and that’s why I find myself thinking that the morality of this operation is so questionable.

The whole thing is a gamble and tantamount to gambling. I recognise addiction in other people because I recognise it in myself. It stems from a psychological bias towards repetition and seemingly achievable wealth just held slightly beyond our grasp. Gambling addiction stems from the poor addict’s belief in greater things than statistics. ‘My luck has got to change’ or ‘one more bid and I know I’ll win this…’ I can see how bidding would quickly become alluring. Letting go is difficult for anybody with compulsive behaviour. Do you know how long I keep sweaters beyond their reasonable lifespan? It can take a NATO intervention to get me to part with favourite jeans… Do you know how long I've tried to write and cartoon for a living?

Of course, others will shout ‘consumer choice’ and ‘free will’ but I guess this is how the rich get rich and why I’m destined to be poor. I have too much moral backbone. I couldn’t fleece a person even if I tried. Instead I sit here watching the clocks turn red, new bids arrive, and the clocks turn black again. I look at all the names and wonder what kind of lives these people live. Are they addicts, marks, players or punters? The tablet is now going for £14.94. Quibids have taken £597.60 of bids for a product that I see currently selling online for as little as £292.95 including free delivery. That’s a frightening thought and a hell of a business to be in. I’m tempted to wait to see the final result but I have things to do, compulsive behaviours to avoid, more metal to grind.

[Update: the Nexus still hasn't gone and it's nearly £19 (1900 bids at 40p a bid, or £760) but a memory stick just sold. I'm trying to work out the maths of that. Perhaps somebody can tell me if this is correct. A ‘PNY Micro Sleek Attache 16GB USB Flash Drive – Red’ costs £6.32 on Amazon. The bids on Quibids hit £2.22 before it was sold. That’s a saving of £4.10 - £0.40 (£3.70) for the winning bidder, assuming they only made one bid. However, the bidding process would have been approximately 2.22 x 100 penny bids. That's 222 penny bids at £0.4 each, bringing the website an astonishing £88.8 for a product worth £6.32. A profit of £82.48!]

[Update 2: It eventually sold for £26.61, which means I should have perhaps backed my calculations. I said I would have started bidding at £25 and bid every other time. £1.61 over my starting point would have meant there were approximately 161 bids. I think my calculation that you’d have to bid every other value might have been wrong since each bid raises the price by £0.006. However, even 161 bids would have cost £64, a lot cheaper than the store android. Perhaps you can beat the system but had I been bidding, perhaps the price would have gone much higher or I might have missed one. Makes little difference to me. There's no way of predicting these things and the whole thing smacks of gambling...]

Thursday, 17 October 2013

Roy Hodgson's Monkey

Roy Hodgson has put his tongue in it again. Or rather he hasn’t but some people are acting as though he has and all the way down to his boots... What he did do is tell an old joke about NASA sending a monkey into space alongside an astronaut. The monkey is asked to perform all manner of technical operations and the astronaut is dismayed to find himself with nothing to do. He asks NASA if he can do something important. They reply: ‘you can in 15 minutes when you feed the monkey’. Bum bum tish. Or perhaps not…

Most right minded people (and Wayne Rooney) have said that Hodgson had nothing to apologise for but Piara Powar, the executive director of Football Against Racism in Europe, used Twitter to complain that: "Hodgson used very silly term within a diverse team environment. He should know better. Assume it wasn't a Freudian slip, no evidence to suggest it was. Some players will see it as reflection of the crude language still used by some coaches and attitudes that still prevail."

We are meant to infer that ‘crude language’ in this instance is the word ‘monkey’, which, I could easily point out, insults my distant relatives by turning their species into a term of offense. We can assume that given the modern climate, nobody involved in football can ever use the word 'monkey'. So there’s no use of that old polite saying about being a ‘cheeky monkey’, no PG Tips in the dressing room, not even the sportsman’s favourite bananas to replace energy during the game…

Of course, it’s an utterly stupid, reductive, and tedious story which I would normally ignore had Hodgson not issued a statement.
‘I would like to apologise if any offence has been caused by what I said at half-time. There was absolutely no intention on my part to say anything inappropriate.’

This kind of apology has become commonplace these days. People apologise if offence was caused even if it wasn’t intended. I’d like somebody to explain the thought process that leads to this kind of specious reasoning. Who decides if offence was caused? Who decides if the offence was justifiable offence? What would happen if the person feeling offence was a rabid right-wing loon, spouting nationalistic nonsense? What if they’re offended by the colour of a person’s skin or their speaking the wrong language or with the wrong accent? Who is to judge what is righteous offence and what is intolerant rubbish? I personally find Hodgson’s apology offensive and I’d like an apology for that, except I doubt if one will be coming.

The problem with this kind of utterly dumb media-driven story is that it distracts from the real problems of racism in our culture. It gives ammunition to people who want to dismiss every aspect of PC culture. Of course, I’ve argued before that PC culture is self-defeating and it is for precisely the kind of problems associated with Hodgson’s non-error.

A teacher friend told me just the other day of something that happened in her classroom. A student was asked where they’d put their homework. ‘I put it in the box,’ he said. ‘Which box?’ she asked. ‘I can’t tell you, Miss. It would be racist.’ It turned out that he’d put the homework into a black cardboard box but was frightened of using the term ‘black’ lest it offend.

It reminded me a similar situation that happened to me. A few years ago I used to teach a basic course on structuralism to university undergraduates. One of the things we’d discuss is why bad guys always wear black in movies and, occasionally, somebody would try to argue that associating the colour black with evil was terribly racist and we should now know better than that. Of course, the only racism evident was their associating blackness with the colour of a person’s skin. The correct answer was that bad guys wear black because our ancestors undoubtedly feared the night and dark places. Evil would have been thought to lurk in dark places. It's why ancient mystery rites always used to take place in deep dark caves. It means that our horror stories are rarely set during the daytime. Nobody is ever frightened of entering the old well lit mansion. Ghost don’t wander the graveyard after the church bell has tolled noon. Simply put: it's more frightening not to be able to see where you're going than when you have a clear path.

What does this have to do with Roy Hodgson and his monkey? I suppose it just shows that we live in ridiculously fretful yet hypocritical times. Hodgson is in trouble for telling an utterly benign story about a monkey going into space whilst Grand Theft Auto 5 continues to be sold by every high street retailer whilst teaching our youth (most of whom aren’t even old enough to legally buy the game) the most vile kinds of racial stereotypes and is littered with the very word that has effectively be stricken from our language, edited out of our great literary texts.

With such idiots supposedly on the side of the angels, is it any wonder that bigots prevail?

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

One of those blog posts between posts where I have something more significant to talk about...

Overloaded with work today so I’ve had no time for blogging or eating, just gasping the occasional lung of air between jobs. I’m also being kept busy by the fools on the other end of the phone number 01709 384780. Apparently, they have something to do with Vodafone in Rochdale but I only know this from online research. As soon as I answer the phone they either hang up or they wait until I hear their call centre and then they hang up.

Speaking of fools, yesterday I was in Manchester and I discovered that if you’re an idiot, drunk, and accompanied by a woman who is also an idiot and drunk, neither of you need to pay to use public transport. I witnessed this at Manchester Piccadilly where a tall unfunny crooner (he was singing a Sinatra lyric involving the line ‘I dream of the sweat beneath her armpit’) and a small barely cogent thong-wearer passed through the ticket barrier without showing a ticket. A ticket inspector followed them as far as the concourse but he gave up the chase. When I say ‘chase’, I really mean that they were walking slowly and eventually couldn’t be bothered to walk any slower in case he caught them. Not that I blame him. I’ve seen this type before. It’s almost a thing to admire, seeing the way they walk through barriers without a care in the world. A willingness to throw punches at people in authority is apparently enough to save you a £10 or £20 train fare. I’d try it myself but I have a tendency to dribble when faced with violence and/or imprisonment.

In Manchester, I also discovered facial threading. I didn’t know what it was when I stumbled on the kiosk outside Argos in the Arndale but now I’m enlightened as to face threading. I thought it some mystical art because it promised to ‘reshape your face’ but I’ve now discovered that it’s a way of ripping out facial hairs using a twisted piece of thread. I guess it’s better than the skin eating fish that were all the rage a year or so ago but hardly as funny.

I briefly thumbed through Greyson Perry’s new book in Waterstones. Expensive but not as funny as I thought it would be. I still wonder why he never replied to any of my letters. It took a week of hard work tracking down his studio via Google Streetview. I virtually walked every street on in his part of London until I matched a front door to his letterbox. An artist friend recommended that I write to him because she said Perry had a good sense of humour and was sure to reply. Two letters, two cartoons, and a book later and he still never bothered to reply, even when I addressed a letter to his teddy bear. I’m beginning to wonder if he does corporate work on behalf of Samsung…

Speaking of Samsung, I was delighted to see that Android app, ‘ArtFlow’, has upgraded and now allows 4k canvasses! Unfortunately, it only allows these bigger canvases on the new Samsung Note 10.1 (2014 edition) which really rubs the South Korean sea salt into the wound. Thankfully, the 2014 edition doesn't seem to be out in the UK so I don't need to feel too bad just yet... And I’ve also figured out how to switch between pen and eraser using the button on the side, so I'm managing to work quicker, though not necessarily better. If I find the enthusiasm, I’ll do another video and show you the results… Or perhaps not… Yes, I’m feeling that way about my cartoons this week. I’ve now got seven suitable candidates to send off to the cartoon competition but I don’t know anybody able (or willing) to judge them. I gave them to those closest to me and all I got were blank faces. This teaches me something about my cartoons, my humour, or my friends and family.


Tuesday, 15 October 2013

The Sanest Evil and the Death of Akram Raslan

[caption id="attachment_3216" align="alignright" width="252"]akram raslan Cartoonist Akram Raslan, murdered in Syria.[/caption]

Among the many hand-sized clichés we often reach for is the one that says that evil is beyond our powers to describe. Yet the phrase ‘I really don’t understand how they can do that’ is surely one of the most cowardly in our language because what it really means is: ‘I really don’t want to understand how they can do that’. We play linguistic games in order to find that easy path out of difficult areas. We resort to words like ‘madman’ to describe Hitler when his motivations and actions were based in a cold realm of logic taken straight from Nietzsche who argued that pity weakens us all.

It’s in this sense that Kurtz in Conrad’s ‘Heart of Darkness’ is not a mad man. He is man who has gone utterly sane. Kurtz has stripped back the layers of culture, behaviour, and morality to locate himself in a simpler world free from values. ‘There was nothing either above or below him, and I knew it,’ says Marlow. ‘He had kicked himself loose of the earth. Confound the man! he had kicked the very earth to pieces.’

The message of Conrad’s book is that civilisation must maintain a state of partial insanity in order to continue. In one of the great final chapters of literature, Kurtz’s intended asks Marlow if Kurtz mentioned her before he died. Marlow makes a profound choice, choosing to tell a lie because the truth – that Kurtz died expounding ‘the horror, the horror’ – would give her no solace. It’s like the many lies we tell ourselves: that our governments are benign, that politicians care about every single one of us, that good guys win, that talent triumphs, and that owning an iPad is the thing to do and totally without consequence. The truth is that we in the West live the lives we live because we exploit people in other countries. The even larger truth is that we are fighting the same battle for survival that has gone on for ten thousand years, only our tribe no longer slaughters the woolly mammoth outside the cave. We no longer see our fathers, brothers, and sons killing the rivals who covet our resources.

Reason taken like this to its logical extreme is ultimately nihilistic. We are just lumps of cells bound to a planet we might never escape before our civilisation is doomed by the death of the sun. Yet even if our far decedents find other planets to colonise, it will merely be a pause before the ultimate heat death of the universe. There is no greater meaning against that backdrop. Good and evil are relative temperatures; morality merely a state of warmth between something being hot and then becoming cold forever or until time itself comes to an end.

Such talk should rightly be offensive to our sensibilities. To paraphrase the advice given to the young Alvy Singer in Woody Allen’s Annie Hall: the entropic decay of the universe doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do our maths homework. Similarly, we want to leave the problems of ‘evil’ in some dark corner while we instead consider the things that make life worth living. In this sense, we all would be Kurtz’s bride. We don’t want the truth. We need lies in order to survive.

Call it habit, behaviour, tics, prejudices, programming, instinct or conditioning: we are all ‘mad’ in some small way and we should be glad of that. Cartoonists in particular are bred to exploit that madness. Their humour warms us because it’s borne out of the friction caused by our fractured subjectivity rubbing against the cold sanity of the objective world. It is the job of the cartoonist to revel in our human faults, fragilities, pretentions, delusions, and, yes, the madness that is sometimes needed to keep our blood pumping. The alternative is to succumb to the rising power of reason, systems, and programming. The sane act is to dress all our window cleaners in the same uniform. It’s to make call centre staff adhere to a corporate image and respond to every call by mechanically following a flowchart. Such things strip away our humanity, the unique eccentricity that comes from being living breathing people. The postman no longer cracks jokes as he does his round because he’s now a professional. We’re told it makes sense, that it’s surely the rational thing to do… Yet it’s the cartoonist who points out that none of this actually makes life better. The cartoonist points out that conformity is only a short step from the police, the army, and, eventually, the secret apparatus of a repressive regime. It is the cartoonist’s job to remind us that Hitler was not mad. He was sane. Criminally sane and the same is true of the tyrants butchering innocents in Syria.

Today I read that the cartoonist Akram Raslan has been murdered by the Assad regime. The full report is here but, really, what needs to be said is that Raslan’s only crime was to lampoon the President of Syria. Raslan stood up when others cower down, an act braver than anything I can imagine. Perhaps he is one of the very few really worthy of the honour of calling themselves ‘cartoonist’ because the true cartoonist defends the madness of our culture, our society, our manners, our faiths, beliefs, prejudices, pretentions, and hopes. The cartoonist maintains the humour that fires the human spirit in the face of those cold, rational, and deeply corrupt minds that routinely calculate that millions can die so a barbarous few can survive. True cartoonists do that regularly. It is their job to stand up and speak mad truths. It’s why the best are so very few and the rest of us merely scratch around in the dirt hoping to find significant meaning in the dust.

I suppose Akram Raslan wasn’t what every cartoonist should aspire to be. He was what every human being should aspire to be. You might say that it was an act of madness to defy a government ruled by cowards and thugs but surely it is the same madness that defines the noblest among of us. Sometimes our finest accomplishments make no rational sense but are supremely meaningful because of that: Van Gogh’s Sunflowers, Michaelanelo’s Pietà, the Marx Brothers’ Duck Soup. Rationalists rightly attack religion and accuse it of being the cause of much of the world’s trouble but we should not forget that the alternative they offer is one step closer to the gas chamber than anything found in scripture. The last century’s most notorious genocides were perpetrated not in the name of God but in the name of Nazi and Stalinist ideology where God had no place.

That isn’t to defend religion but to simply point out that sometimes we, as human beings, need the mystery of the established lie. Freedom is non-conformity, rule breaking, individual expression, and a love of things that make no sense. It sometimes makes us an enemy of the state but that is as it should be. Some call it anarchy but we never choose that entirely or, at least, never choose is entirely for very long. Civilization is founded upon the compromises we always make between order and chaos, truth and lies, silence and laughter. Cartoonists explore those compromises for the purposes of humour and sometimes enlightenment. Akram Raslan explored it to express the most important statement any person can make. He dared to laugh and then some coldly rational bastard silenced him for that and in the process they kicked the very earth to pieces.


Monday, 14 October 2013

My Afternoon: Ducks, Dogs, and Knickers

Busy day after a busy evening. Tomorrow is the deadline for material for the next issue of ‘Red All Over The Land’, the Liverpool FC fanzine to which I’ve been contributing cartoons this season. I normally don’t allow myself to get close to a deadline but this time I’ve been busy with too much work. The cartoon strip I’ve sent is the first I’ve drawn entirely on the Samsung Note, though the text and colour came afterwards in Photoshop. It’s a bit of a milestone finding that I can actually work entirely in digital and know that the results look almost indistinguishable from the work I would have done in ink.

However, that’s not the point of this blog post. I’m blogging today because I wanted to talk about dog owners.

In case it passed your notice, today was Monday and in The Spine household, Monday usually means that the shopping needed doing. As is usual, this fell to me so I jumped on my bike and headed off on my usual route which takes me down around the canal. And it’s there that I saw an odd sight.

Two women, possibly in their fifties, were out walking their dogs in the biting cold. Nothing unusual so far except one of the dogs had jumped into the canal, no doubt attempting to get to one of the many ducks the local council bus-in to make the place look reasonably rural. I don’t know much about dogs but I do know they’re prone to jump into rivers. Then they usually climb out, give themselves a shake (in slow motion), and Joanna Lumley starts blathering on about healthy gums. However, it being a canal and not a river, the banks are manmade. It’s a vertical three foot stone wall from the footpath to the water and there’s no way that a dog, having jumped in the canal, could ever hope to get out and give itself a shake. As for Joanna Lumley, the old girl wouldn’t come within twenty miles of our borders.

Which is what these two women had discovered by the time I arrived.

‘Grab the stick! Grab the stick!’ they screamed as they waved a short twig in the direction of the paddling pooch. Then they spotted me. ‘Oh help! Can you save our dog from the canal?’ they plead.

I didn’t know how to tell them they must has mistaken me for one of those suckers you hear are born every sixty seconds. My inner monologue had already kicked in and it had a BBC newsreader’s plummy voice: ‘A passer-by drowned today when attempting to rescue a dog that had jumped into a canal chasing ducks. The dog eventually made its own way out while the passer-by, thought to be a cyclist and notoriously unsuccessful blogger, rapidly sank twelve feet to the bottom of the canal due to the weighty Samsung Note 10.1 tablet in his backpack. Police believe that had Samsung UK’s Marketing Director Ms. Ines van Gennip sent him a Samsung Note 10.1 (2014 edition) to review in exchange for his now priceless cartoon, the lighter tablet would have allowed him to swim to safety. Frogmen recovered his body and a fragment of duck-based humour which it’s thought the blogger was writing at the time of his drowning because he thought it might make for a semi-amusing anecdote.’

It took a fraction of second for all that to cross my cerebellum before I knew there wasn’t time to explain the silence of Ines van Gennip. Instead, I began to wave to a point further down the canal where the path was lower.

Only my wise council wasn’t needed. As one of the women stripped off (I kid you not), the other crawled on her belly and reach down to the water. After a few efforts, she snagged the dog’s collar and with a snap of her powerful arm, she lifted the dog clean out of the water. Queue her shouting at the dog as she began to explain the dangers of canals and the other woman pulled her knickers back on.

I shrugged my shoulders and rode off. Dog owners defy logic and, had one of them jumped in, I can’t say that I would have done anything braver than waving a branch in her direction whilst tutting disapprovingly. The people I feel sorry for are the firemen who have to start arsing around on thin ice after somebody high on Pedigree Chum has jumped into a frozen pond in the middle of winter. It’s usually the humans that drown and rarely the dogs. I mean, it stands to sense that dogs usually find a way out of canals without human intervention, otherwise our waterways would be clogged with the bloated carcasses of family pets and bloggers with unnecessarily heavy Samsung tablets in the backpacks.

Thankfully, humans, dogs, and ducks emerged from this story relatively unscathed. But I think it’s a story that has an important message about water safety, dog ownership, and the reluctance of Samsung UK to help UK bloggers. Thanks to them, this blogger will remains negatively buoyant for the foreseeable future and what does that say about the Anglo-Korean relationship?